Tracking COVID-19 in Wastewater — How to Get Started

Large wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) are already familiar with the sampling instruments and analytical procedures involved in detecting a wide variety of chemical and biological compounds. Having their own analytical labs, or long-established relationships with third-party labs, many will have little difficulty adapting to detection of COVID-19.

The same applies to collection facilities upstream of the WWTP where some form of routine sampling and analysis might already be occurring. Both types of facility will be able to provide useful insights into the spread of the coronavirus on a relatively broad scale. The spread, however, is not homogenous; it typically flares up in well defined “hot spots" that are immediately adjacent to areas having few or zero cases.

Consequently, many of the most important points to be monitored are further upstream, where sampling and analytical procedures are not already in place, such as neighborhoods, business or tech centers, groups of buildings, or even individual buildings.

Common targets include nursing homes; assisted living facilities; prisons; primary and secondary schools; college and university campuses and residence halls; large manufacturing facilities; processing plants; essentially any location where large numbers of people regularly congregate in close contact with one another for long periods.

  1. The first step of a COVID-19 program design is to form an idea (hypotheses) of where a wastewater sampling system should be installed, and why.

    For example: “As the facilities manager of a college campus, and in coordination with senior management and local public health officials, we intend to monitor our ten residence halls, at the discharge points below the dorms, to compare the levels of COVID-19 genetic material coming from each."

    “We believe the minimum, maximum, median, and average values of these measurements, along with their trends over time, will provide a practical benchmark for determining when and where to take preventative or remedial action."

  2. With a starting hypothesis in mind, productive conversations can now occur with consultants, public health officials, engineers, and suppliers of instruments and analytical services. The original plan might evolve slightly—or change radically—as a result of these discussions.

  3. With the now-agreed-upon plan, determine which tasks will be performed by existing personnel and which will be outsourced.

    For example, “We will pull the samples ourselves and transport them to the selected lab, while everything else, such as analysis and interpretation, will be performed by selected experts."

    OR: “The entire program, including initial design and all aspects of implementation, will be conducted by an outside firm."

  4. It is especially important to ensure all parties are in agreement with the sample collection and transport protocols as defined by each analytical lab. How many samples are to be collected, and how often, and the volume of each? Under which conditions will some form of sample preservation, such as refrigeration, be required?

Teledyne ISCO is here to help with this process by providing support at the factory-direct level and throughout our global network of highly experienced distributors and representatives, and from the flow-management services firms with whom we work constantly.

Our key partner in wastewater-based epidemiology, Biobot Analytics, is also available to help with key decisions from initial program design, to equipment selection, to lab analysis and reporting, and long-term interpretation of the results.


Next: Examples of COVID-19 wastewater based epidemiology initiatives >

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